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Wilder feed store

Building on Lot 17, Block 1, in De Smet, used as feed store by Royal Wilder in the 1880s.

“I say we move in to town for the winter. My feed store beats a claim shanty all hollow for wintering in. We can stay back there till spring. How’d it suit you, Manzo?” – The Long Winter, Chapter 7, “Indian Warning”

On May 20, 1880, Royal Wilder contracted with Western Town Lots Company to purchase Lot 17, Block 1, original town of De Smet, for fifty dollars. Royal Wilder was the first person to purchase a town lot in De Smet! Local history has always maintained that Henry Hinz bought the first lot, but his was purchased on June 7. Hinz may have had the distinction of trying to second guess the surveyors and be the first to stake a physical claim to the lot closest to the railroad – a most desirable location – but when the surveyors had done their work, Hinz was found to be two lots off, so Charles Mead ended up with the last two lots for his hotel.

Many publications identify the incorrect building as Wilder feed in early photographs; some even identify a building not even on the lot Royal purchased. Royal’s building was one story with a peaked roof behind a tall square false front. There was a center door with a window on each side, and the circa 1885 photograph at right shows an awning rolled and tied above the windows.

Wilder Feed is important in the Little House books because this is where Almanzo Wilder stored his seed wheat during the Hard Winter of 1880-1881, and where Charles Ingalls went to purchase some of that wheat from Almanzo when the Ingallses were out of food (see The Long Winter, Chapter 23, “The Wheat in the Wall”). It doesn’t seem that Royal Wilder was in the feed business for very long, and no advertisements for his feed store appear in early newspapers. By 1887, Royal was operating a variety store out of a property in Block 3, and the feed store must have been rented out. It was at this time that Royal started owing back taxes on the property.

In 1905, the De Smet News recorded that the “old Wilder building on Calumet” stood with its door open and windows broken out. The building was said to be old and dilapidated and unfit for occupancy, and publisher Carter Sherwood said it would be no loss to the owner or the town if it was condemned and torn down. But it sat in disrepair for over three more years.

In April 1909, the De Smet City Council ordered that the building be town down or repaired, as it was a fire trap. The property was sold at auction in June, and was purchased by George Burd. The lot and building was almost immediately sold to Thomas Mears, who owned other property on the block. Mears had the building torn down in July 1909 and he built a garage in its place. The photograph below shows the new building constructed the following year; note the sign above says “GARAGE.” This is the building most people mistake for Wilder Feed in old photographs, but this two story building dates from 1909.


Wilder feed store (TLW 9-10; LTP 6)